If Olympic champion Jessica Fox has learnt anything about being referred to as the ‘World’s Greatest Paddler’ it’s that the level of pressure that accompanies the title could either sink her or propel her to even greater heights.

“Pressure is an interesting thing, and it comes with the territory,” said Fox, who features in this week’s revealing five episode, NSWIS Lights Up Documentary.

“There’s that old saying – and I really love it – ‘pressure is a privilege’.

“That’s kind of the approach I take. Whatever pressure is out there [I think] ‘how special is it that I’m even in this position to be able to try and go out there and defend a title?’

“If I don’t win some people will see that as a failure, whereas, it doesn’t have to be that way. I can have the best run of my life I can’t control who’s going to be first, second or third. It’s always about me controlling what I can control and showing up with a mindset of openness, possibility, curiosity and embracing the challenges.”

Fox, who has won Olympic gold, silver, and two bronze medals; 14 world championship gold medals, and 51 gold medals, said despite the constant expectations on her to win, she’s never thought defeat risked tarnishing her 24-carat reputation.

“I’m not sure I agree with the idea every time I compete, I put my reputation on the line because we’re all human – we all make mistakes,” she said. “I like to look back on my career, and, overall, there is a bigger picture than just one race.

“You’re . . . maybe . . . always defined by moments in your career, but I think the bigger picture shows more than just one race. The will to put down my best paddling, and also achieve my potential is bigger than the fear of failure.

“We’re always going to have doubts and fears and there’s always going to be uncertainty and nerves and stress. At the end of the day, I love being on the water and I love competition.”

Fox revealed her indomitable spirit was forged by the examples of her parents, Myriam and Richard, both who competed for their respective Olympic teams, France and Great Britain in the 1990s.

“The values that my family instilled in me, that was a lot of love and support and encouragement,” said French-born Fox, who’ll compete alongside her younger sister, Noemie at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

Noemie Fox (left) wins the 2023 world championship gold medal with sister Jessica Fox (right)

 “And there was the value of hard work and applying yourself in whatever it is that you do. I remember dragging my feet to swimming club and not wanting to go there and then leaving and feeling so proud of myself that I did it, and that I pushed through, even though I didn’t want to.

“And that all came from Mum and Dad being like: ‘No, you said you were going to do it.’ Same with schoolwork, you know, ‘you’ve got to apply yourself’. It’s something I’ve held onto.”

While Fox follows a gruelling training program to be in peak condition, she has had good reason to develop her mental strength and learning how to immerse herself in the water’s flow.

“Mental training is just as important as the physical or technical training,” she said. “And it’s not an area that we focus on in the same way we do training on the water or training in the gym.

“But I think being able to focus for [those] 100 seconds that we’re out there and racing is really important – and I don’t always get it right. But I know when I do that feeling is amazing.

“Being in that flow state and knowing exactly where I am on the water, what stroke I need and the position, how close I get to the gate. So, it’s a pretty amazing feeling, and the more I put myself in those race situations, it feels natural.”

Fox credited her scholarship with the New South Wales Institute of Sport as a reason for her dominant place on the world stage.

“I’ve been a scholarship holder for almost 15 years, which has been amazing to look back and know that NSWIS has been a part of my career from, you know, a junior athlete making my first junior world team to under-23 to my first Olympic team.

“I’ve been grateful to NSWIS to be a part of the NSWIS family. I still remember that moment. I got my first NSWIS hoodie the moment I’d made the squad and was part of this amazing family and this amazing team.”

And while she savoured the view from the winner’s podium at the Tokyo Olympics, Fox made it clear she is as determined as ever to succeed.

“Becoming Olympic champion was the achievement of a childhood dream, but I still feel just as excited and competitive and hungry to be on that start line,” she said.

“I still feel like I have more to learn and to improve on. So, I was wondering what it would feel like if I would still feel the same motivation, but it’s definitely still there. I feel like I’m just arriving at, I guess, my prime and the challenge is still there.

It’s the biggest honour to wear the green and gold and to sit on the start line and know I’m representing Australia and everyone back home who has supported me. It’s something I don’t take for granted and it’s a true privilege

“It [sounds] surreal when you’ve listed my name next to the likes of Ian Thorpe and Dawn Fraser in terms of being an Olympic champion . . .and ‘Australian Olympic champion’ is a pretty amazing thing and such a special moment of my career.”

Daniel Lane, NSWIS

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